PESHAWAR, March 7 The Awami National Party has nominated a young educated woman as the minister for social welfare and women development, who will be the first woman minister in an elected government in the NWFP.

Sitara Ayaz, who till recently was active in social welfare activities as director of the All Pakistan Women's Association's NWFP chapter, was elected MPA on a reserved seat for women.

There have been a few women ministers in the NWFP but they either worked with a military government or a caretaker set-up. Meraj Hamayun is working in the present caretaker set-up in the NWFP as education minister. Dr Shaheen Sardar Ali served as provincial health minister in the military government of President Pervez Musharraf in 1999. She was later replaced by another woman, Dr Mehr Taj Roghani, when she left the ministry for personal reasons.

Sitara Ayaz, set to become the first woman minister in an elected government in the province, belongs to the Swabi district's Jhanda village. She has been affiliated with the ANP for 10 years. She does not have any link to a known political family, but is a relative of Bushra Gohar, another ANP MNA elected on a reserved seat. She holds a master's degree in English literature.

Talking to Dawn, Sitara Ayaz said she wanted to create economic opportunities for women. She said women needed economic empowerment, besides basic facilities like health and education, especially in rural areas.

“I will try to start schemes for women so they can earn their livelihood while doing small business from their homes,” she said.

She said she was aware of how the security situation was like in the NWFP for women. So, she said, she planned to adopt a strategy that was feasible and women were able to work while following local cultural norms.

“I know there will be problems, but I will like to take the community along. I want to work along with people,” she said.

Sitara Ayaz said she was confident that her rural background and experience in social welfare would help her adopt a strategy for women development.

She said she would try to create coordination between government and non-governmental organisations in social welfare and women development projects and institutions.

The ANP, which won the majority seats in the NWFP in the Feb 18 election for its slogans of peace and combating extremism in all its forms, has made its first progressive move by appointing a woman a minister in a 21-member cabinet, political analysts say.

The ANP was also the first political party which sent a woman member to the National Assembly. Begum Nasim Wali Khan was elected to the National Assembly in 1977. She was also later elected as an MPA four times.

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